[Illustration: Sybil’s cave.]
Rome was at war with the city of Gabii, and as the city was not to be subdued by force, Tarquin tried treachery. His eldest son, Sextus Tarquinius, fled to Gabii, complaining of ill-usage of his father, and showing marks of a severe scourging. The Gabians believed him, and he was soon so much trusted by them as to have the whole command of the army and manage everything in the city. Then he sent a messenger to his father to ask what he was to do next. Tarquin was walking through a cornfield. He made no answer in words, but with a switch cut off the heads of all the poppies and taller stalks of corn, and bade the messenger tell Sextus what he had seen. Sextus understood, and contrived to get all the chief men of Gabii exiled or put to death, and without them the city fell an easy prey to the Romans.
Tarquin sent his two younger sons and their cousin to consult the oracle at Delphi, and with them went Lucius Junius, who was called Brutus because he was supposed to be foolish, that being the meaning of the word; but his folly was only put on, because he feared the jealousy of his cousins. After doing their father’s errand, the two Tarquins asked who should rule Rome after their father. “He,” said the priestess, “who shall first kiss his mother on his return.” The two brothers agreed that they would keep this a secret from their elder brother Sextus, and, as soon as they reached home, both of them rushed into the women’s rooms, racing each to be the first to embrace their mother Tullia; but at the very entrance of Rome Brutus pretended to slip, threw himself on the ground and kissed his Mother Earth, having thus guessed the right meaning of the answer.